I write to you from my room here at the Casa Santa Maria in Rome now that I am back full time and settled in for the new academic year. My posts have lately been short and sporadic because of the traveling I've done which I want to share with you all.
As you may recall, I departed Notre Dame back on the 15th of September, the great solemnity of Our Lady of Sorrows, patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. My flight from O'Hare to Zurich to Rome was uneventful and I was glad to finally get a bulkhead seat with its extra 4" of leg room! I did have a somewhat nice conversation with the gentleman seated next to me who obviously had some misconceptions about the priesthood.
Having arrived into Rome on the afternoon of Wednesday the 16th, I joined a group of pilgrims form my home parish for dinner and an evening tour of the Trevi Fountain on Thursday. Friday came early as I had to be out the door by 6AM to catch a bus to the Termini train station, and then a fast-speed train to Milan which ended up taking 5.5 hours instead of the four for which it had been scheduled. After a quick coffee break in the Milan Central train station I hopped on the train headed to Verbania, about two hours northwest on Lago Maggiore.I arrived around 4PM, in time for my first Italian tutoring session. For two weeks I was tutored for three hours, in one-on-one sessions with two great tutors - Andrea and Luca. They went the extra mile and brought a lot of energy to the sessions. Their patience was greatly appreciated! I was grateful also to be joined by Fr. Eric Fasano, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY who also began his Roman studies last year as did I. Most of the photos posted here and elsewhere were taken by him.Alas, we had no tutoring on the weekends and so Saturday was spent back in Milan. We immediately left the Milan Central Train Station and headed south toward the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, which houses the tomb of the great 4th century doctor of the Church. I found this to be a very priviledged moment - to pray at his tomb. The great saint (clothed in white vestments) is flanked by two martyr saints, Gervasius and Protasius (clothed in red vestments). A priest was praying the Mass when we came to pray.The basilica also houses the relics of Sts. Marcellina and St. Satiro, the sister and brother of St. Ambrose. After viewing a number of smaller churches in the area and enjoying lunch, we arrived at the main piazza of Milan overseen by the majestic Milan cathedral. Built in the span of centuries and just last year cleaned on the exterior, the church is a sight to behold. We spent a couple of hours taking in the beauty of the cavernous interior and then walking on the roof, amazed by the detailed architecture.A highlight of the pilgrimage was to pray at the tomb of St. Charles Borromeo, who came from an influential family in this Northern region of what is now modern Italy. As a cardinal and Archbishop of Milan he served a very important role in the reforms which followed the Council of Trent, especially in the area of education of clergy. As a priest in studies in this Year for Priests, to pray at his tomb was a great blessing.Another highlight is the statue of St. Bartholomew depicted holding his own skin since tradition tells us he was flayed alive then crucified. The statue was made by Marco d'Agrate in 1562. Notice the detail of the muscle system - evidence that by the late 1500s the taboo of dissecting human remains began to wane.
As remarkable as the interior is, the exterior is breathtaking. Every nook, every cranny, the top of every spire is surmounted and adorned with statuary and carvings whose significance lies not so much in themselves or in their placement. For instance, in the photo to the right we see a statue placed above a door way that opens up to the roof. For hundreds of years this statue would not have been seen by anyone except perhaps someone employed in the Cathedral Works office. And so, why place a statue there? Not for itself, nor for the admiration of modern tourists. Instead, it is placed there for the greater glory of God.
How often in our modern mentality do we allow a "facade" to suffice for a building's exterior. We throw up a fake tower, balcony or false roof and call it a day. The value of this particular statue pictured to the right lies not in it's being perceived by human eyes and therefore receiving the praise of men, but instead its true worth lies in the craftsmanship of the artisan who crafted it and placed it here for the greater glory of God. The saint can give glory to God in a hidden, quiet, and obscure way.It was a wonderful day to see the highlights of Milan which included both the churches, tombs, and of course, the high-end shopping, which I didn't do of course, but we did walk past all the big windows filled with the latest fashions just as one would expect to see in Milan: the fashion capital of the world. One window included "live" mannequins. This should give hope to PLS majors!